True confessions; The great potato chip affair…
On one of my many trips over the years to Oshkosh, long before ever moving out here to Arizona, there I was, right seat in my friends’ Mooney, cruising along at 12,500 feet in beautiful clear skies, on a direct line from south Jersey to Oshkosh. It was me, my friend, who I’ll call JP (who I promised to never reveal his true identity to avoid the embarrassment!!), and his son in the back seat. Like most of my long cross country flights, it was a smooth, almost boring flight. There was no autopilot, but the wing leveler was working great, altitude was easy to hold, not a lot of chatter on the frequency although we were getting flight following. Both of us were ATC’s at the time, and we, and our airplanes (by N number), were fairly well known at the time by a lot of the controllers we worked with or actually hired during the controller strike, and it gave us the opportunity to actually evaluate the system from the pilot perspective. (We were working like dogs back then!) Anyway, it was all quiet in the cockpit as we cruised along, just enjoying the view over western Pennsylvania. Our route of flight took us right across Lake Erie, the long way on an east-west line, heading for Lake Huron and into Michigan for our planned fuel stop. Both JP and I were enjoying the fabulous scenery, but being creatures of habit, we were paying very close attention to all the gauges, especially the engine gauges, because we all know engines go into automatic rough and develop strange, mysterious sounds any time you go over open water! JP’s son, a young teenager at the time, was restlessly - and uncomfortably - dozing off in the back seat. FYI, back seats in a Mooney are not the same plush seats you get in a Cadillac!! On top of that, he had to share (or was stuffed into) the back seat with all of our gear and baggage we were hauling to sustain us for a week at Oshkosh!! Actually, it was almost stacked to the roof in the other seat and the baggage compartment. It was, by design, all carefully loaded; all the snacks and the cooler, full of ice for the water, and of course, my diet Pepsi, all had to be reachable by all. The planned fuel stop in Michigan was driven by the weight and balance calculation for the 3 of us and all of our stuff.
Now, JP and I had been friends for several years by now. We met in 1981 during the air traffic controller strike when we ended up working in the Air Traffic Operations Branch for the Eastern region. We were operations specialists responsible for the oversight of the ATC facilities spread across the Eastern region and the re-building of the ATC workforce in those facilities. Those were exciting days, and friendships made during that period of our ATC careers remain steadfast to this day.
Anyway, there we were, in our element, cruising along up where the eagles soar, right over the middle of Lake Erie (of course), when suddenly, there was this very loud
AND THE COCKPIT SUDDENLY FILLED WITH THOUSANDS OF TINY PIECES OF –
It sounded like someone had just popped a gigantic blown-up paper bag right there in the cockpit. It was startling, really weird and surreal! It was snowing potato chip pieces throughout the cabin; it was everywhere. The cockpit – the inside of the airplane – suddenly became IMC due to restricted visibility as a result of floating potato chip dust! And, in an instant, it had everyone’s attention. Were we all going to die due to potato chips????
Well, needless to say, we did not die, although we could have died from the subsequent laughter! Lesson Learned: Taking a sealed giant-size bag of potato chips from sea level to 12,500 feet in an unpressurized airplane is not a good idea! That bag expanded like a giant balloon right up to when the seal finally gave out, and, well, it snowed potato chips. However, I can honestly say that potato chips have no effect on the flying capabilities of a Mooney. Oh yeah, it did wake up JP’s son in the back seat. Being seated right next to the offending bag, he was coated in “Tater chip dust” like nobody’s business. It certainly was an auspicious start to our week in Oshkosh, and a memory we still laugh about to this day.
PS – it took months to get all of the potato chip pieces out of the airplane…